After an impressive victory for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in the Tamil Nadu, M K Stalin faces the challenge of administering the state. Credit for the victory, where the DMK has won 133 of the 234 seats in the assembly, largely goes to his stewardship of the party and management of alliances since the demise of his father Muthuvel Karunanidhi.
Unlike his father who was known to be an able administrator, Stalin enters untested waters on a solo sojourn. Stalin is said to have already set up a team of dedicated former and serving bureaucrats to come up with a course of action in terms of implementation of the poll pledges.
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Besides a wider-than-expected revenue deficit and fiscal deficit for 2020-21, the state’s debt is expected to cross ₹5 lakh-crore in 2021-22. Stalin himself believes that the AIADMK-led government's populist decisions in the run-up to the polls could have increased Tamil Nadu’s outstanding debt to about ₹ 9 lakh-crore.
Conservative by nature, Stalin is known not to be very adventurous or ambitious when it comes to fiscal matters, or even political matters.
The DMK leader is unlike Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who has never hidden her national ambitions to play the role of building up opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre. Stalin would rather prefer to concentrate on Tamil Nadu, salvage its economic health, and hand over the baton to his son, Udayanidhi Stalin, who is likely to be made a minister in Stalin’s Cabinet.
Stalin served in his father's ministry, first as the minister for rural development and local administration and later as deputy chief minister. From 1996 to 2002 he was the mayor of Chennai.
As Tamil Nadu depends a lot on the Centre's largesse for implementing schemes, Stalin is expected to bridge his ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and maintain a working relationship with other Union ministers.
The first indication of such an approach came when Stalin readily agreed to the Centre’s desire to restart the two oxygen plants of Vedanta's Sterlite copper unit at Thoothukudi. This was later allowed by the Supreme Court as a ‘national need’.
Apparently, central interlocutors had approached Stalin and DMK MP Kanimozhi (Stalin’s half-sister) after speaking to outgoing Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami when the prevailing political consensus was against it. Many believe this could have set the mood for a thaw in the ties with the BJP leaders at the Centre.
Since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when the DMK sent 24 MPs to Delhi, Stalin has wanted them to meet Modi whenever they got an opportunity to highlight the state's issues.
Stalin knows he faces an opposition in the state assembly, which will not be brow beaten easily. By steering the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) to win close to 70 seats, Palaniswami is bound to play the role as an effective opposition leader. He will face little disquiet within the AIADMK as rebel leader TTV Dhinakaran, nephew of Jayalalithaa's former aide VK Sasikala, has got a good thrashing at the hustings.
Palaniswami does have to deal with AIADMK co-ordinator O Panneerselvam, but the latter may not be in a great mood to revolt against him because a lot of seats that have come to the party are from western Tamil Nadu which is Palaniswami’s stronghold. They would need to stand together to save the AIADMK. The AIADMK rank and file is aware that it was Palaniswami’s work as Chief Minister for the past two years that saved the AIADMK for greater embarrassment.
The AIADMK's strategy would be to wait for things to settle down, and put pressure on the new government once the DMK finds it hard to implement its promises.
Stalin has already indicated that his government will ‘slowly’ implement the DMK's promises. Even during the campaign, Palaniswami reminded the voters about the promises that the DMK could not fulfil during its tenure between 2006 and 2011, citing Karunanidhi’s 2006 poll promise of providing two acres of land free of cost to all landless farmers in Tamil Nadu.
However, describing the party’s manifesto as the ‘second hero’ of the DMK, Stalin had said during the election campaign that a separate ministry would be set up to implement the promises made in the manifesto. If one looks at the promises made, Stalin has literally a herculean task on hand, especially given the finances of the state.
The DMK’s manifesto is filled with promises that will economically test the financial prudence, or even wizardry, of the new government. Some of the women-oriented schemes are: ₹1,000 per month to all women family heads in the state, 40 percent reservation for women in government jobs, maternity leave up to 12 months and ₹24,000 as maternity assistance. Pregnant women will be given medical and financial aid, and 3.2 million widows, single women above the age of 50 (also differently-abled and Sri Lankan refugees) will be given a ₹1,500 payout.
For the youth, the promises are: creation of 550,000 jobs in the government sector, a law to reserve 75 percent of jobs for locals in industries, waiving off education loans by students up to 30 years of age, who pursued school and higher education in Tamil Nadu.
The other populist promises include: ₹4,000 to ration cardholders impacted by COVID-19, a freeze on property tax revision till the economy revives, ₹100 subsidy per cooking gas cylinder, reducing ₹4-5 on fuel prices, reducing ₹3 per litre on milk, ₹1,000 crore for the renovation of temples, and ₹200 crore for churches and mosques, and ₹25,000 each for 100,000 people undertaking spiritual tourism, etc.
In the months ahead it will be clear how Stalin will face these challenges.